To those of us who share the collective title of "boomers" (not to be confused with certain nuclear submarine types) , there are certain movies out there in the DVD marketplace now that bring back fond memories. In the early 1960s, television was coming out of a period when most of what was shown..movie-wise...were cinematic studio "oldies" shown on local "late shows". "early shows", "shock theatres", etc. This is where we got introductions to Crosby & Hope, Karloff, Lugosi, King Kong, the Duke, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, the "Three Mesquiteers", Errol Flynn, and many others.
As these new 60s got underway, though, something new and exciting began on the NBC network. The Peacock crowd (with their new toy , color television) cranked up a new tv show..."Saturday Night At the Movies"...shown every Saturday night (natch)at 9:00 p.m. EST (or DST in summer). Verbally hosted by Donald Rickles (NOT to be confused with comedian DON Rickles), "Saturday Night At The Movies" was a special arrangement between NBC and 20th Century Fox Film Corporation to show recent quality movie releases (10 years old or less)...many in (surprise) Color!...on prime time each week.
This show quickly became a solid hit and inspired many imitators (ABC launched a "Sunday Night Movie" shortly thereafter in a deal with United Artists). On Saturday night one now got a dose of more recent cinematic fare (and much better image quality) than we'd been previously used to. And, oh, what we got to see!!!! "Titanic" (Webb & Stanwycke), "THe Seven Year Itch" (Monroe & Ewell), "Niagra" (Monroe),
The Day the Earth Stood Still" (Rennie & Neal"), "No Highway In the Sky" (James Stewart), "Prince Valiant" (Wagner), "The Hunters" (Mitchum, Egan, & Wagner), "The Enemy Below" (Mitchum & Jurgens), and on and on: "The Desert Fox", "The Desert Rats", "Cheaper By the Dozen", "How To Marry A Millionaire",
"Halls of Montezuma", "Beneath the 12-Mile Reef". "Red Skies of Montana", etc.
And, among these, "The Frogmen".
And seeing it again has been a treat, because it is a wonderful movie. Reminds one of how good they USED to make them (before they were "gimmicked up" to be on-screen video games for
no-brain adolescents). There is action and excitement a'plenty here, along with a good BELIEVABLE story (how rare is THAT nowadays? "Mr. & Mrs. Smith"???) and some GREAT acting performances....Richard Widmark and Dana Andrews in particular.
Widmark (the original "edgy" actor....LONG before Nick Cage) turns in yet another of his fabulous performances as the new CO of UDT Team 4 in the South Pacific, late in the war. As usual Widmark operates on all acting cylinders here...he works with vocal timing and perfect dialog delivery, dead-on body language and mannerisms, and couldn't-be-better eyework...proof once again that this great star-yet-not-a-superstar was one of Hollywood's hands-down best actors (Check out "Halls of Montezuma" or "Madigan", among other roles). Widmark does not play a cardboard hero here. He is a man plagued with flaws and doubts...yet a good, brave man. Just a complicated one.
And, good as Widmark's performance is, Dana Andrews stands up to equal it as Widmark's nemesis. Andrews plays a Chief Petty Officer in Team 4 who is like oil to Widmark's water, and who, with dogged resentment to Widmark's "taking the place" of Team 4's lately-killed former commander, won't "cut the new guy any slack" and keeps resentment stirred up against Widmark by all the enlisted team members. The war of acceptance or non-aceptance between the new C.O. and "the guys" lies at the heart of the movie. And this is a "war" well played throughout.
Jeffrey Hunter privides strong backup here. as does Gary Merrill (Captain of the UDT mission ship), and a group of good character actors (some, like Jack Warden and a couple of others, who would become much more high profile later on).
Biggest mystery about "The Frogmen" concerns Robert Wagner.
He is always listed as "being there", and is named PROMINENTLY in the the credits....yet he is barely there at all! He cannot have any more than 45 seconds screen time...if THAT!!! He seems to play a junior bridge officer (when seen) named "Ensign Franklin", who, recognizable AS a young Robert Wagner as he stands in proximity to Gary Merrill in two long shots of the bridge, does NOTHING but stand there. On one other scene, for about a 5-second run (tops...if THAT) he is called on by Merril to "Mr. Franklin, lower a boat". To which order Wagner delivers (near as I can tell), his only three lines in the movie: "Aye aye, sir!".
That little peculiarity apart, everything else about this film works. Co-operation by the Navy helped produce a "ton" of informative UDT action scenes: the viewer is shown the operations of the departure and pick-up boats, the sling-catching of the frogmen that retrieves them out the water into a rubber raft attached to the pick-up boat...actual scouting of beach traps and the mining of same with stachel demo charges...the planting of a "Welcome to the Beach" sign as a rag on the marines (based on a real WWII practice)...and a full scale harbor penetration in dry suits and scuba at the film's end to blow up Japanese submarine pens. The producers (and Navy)
"fudge" this a little bit by having the team go in wearing 1950s era aqualungs, regulators, and hoses (rather than the real WWII style rebreathers they would really have used), but this might have been done for some security reason (hard to tell). No matter, the scenes work. That's what really counts.
All ends well here...just the way you want it to. All team conflicts aren't shown to have been "ironed out" completely, but enough evidence is there to show that a corner has been turned in team relations with UDT 4 to suggest the old guys and the new guy might just be headed for some hard-won mutual acceptance after all.
Again, good movie. Well worth watching and in glorious black and white .
With this out, and "Halls of Montezuma" (another Widmark winner), makes you hope Fox puts out "Red Skies of Montana", the most exciting smoke jumper/forest fire movie ever put to film. Also wouldn't hurt to see the OTHER big FROGMAN movie either: Dan Dailey as the "Underwater Warrior".